Friday, May 25, 2012

Review: The House by the Sea

The House by the Sea has been sitting on my iPod for a while now. Back in February, I openly criticized Big Finish for resorting to geek "stunt casting" by adding Amber Benson and Colin Baker to their ranks. It wasn't that I had anything against these actors, but I was worried the company's Dark Shadows productions were turning into nothing more than scenery for its guest stars to chew.

Now, just a few days after being praised for my critical accuracy, I humbly admit that I was wrong. Not only about Dress Me in Dark Dreams, the Benson-starring Dark Shadows installment, but about The House by the Sea, as well.

There's a HUGE gap in my Doctor Who experience. As a lad I watched the Tom Baker and much of the Peter Davison episodes, but when my family was kicked out of left England I lost touch with the show until it's much later revival with Christopher Eccleston. I'm not the least bit familiar with Colin Baker. But I think I might have a non-sexual nerd crush on the man after listening to The House by the Sea.

Baker delivers one of the best one-man horror shows since The Evil Dead 2 in The House by the Sea. As former attorney Gerald Conway, Baker plays a man who's lost his family, his career and his sanity, and has traveled to Collinsport in hopes of finding some explanation for his spiritual apocalypse. Haunted by visions of a mysterious house, he catches a glimpse of the building on a documentary about the shipping industry in Maine and decides to get a closer look at the property.

The device used to tell this story is familiar but effective: as with many of H.P. Lovecraft's tales, the episode is a document of a man's growing madness. Conway is recording his experiences in Collinsport (and within the increasingly haunted Sea View) into a tape recorder. While it might sound like an obvious device, it allowed for storytelling opportunities I had not expected: the appearance of characters rarely seen in Big Finish dramas. Baker recounts his encounters with his landlord, Elizabeth Stoddard, as well as her daughter Carolyn and Dr. Julia Hoffman (who he describes as a woman who looks "serious, but also like she owned a dozen too many cats.")

And yes, Barnabas Collins also makes an appearance.

The script is witty and filled with the kind of Lovecraftian dread usually missing from even the best of Lovecraft's adaptations. The House by the Sea is also one of the most atmospheric productions I've heard from Big Finish, with wind, rain and the occasional thunderclap lurking in the background of many of the scenes. This is a tale to be listened to in the dark, for sure.

Without spilling the beans too much, the ending of The House by the Sea sets the stage for a much bigger story, as well as for Baker's possible return. I hope we get to hear that story someday.

Listen to the trailer for The House by the Sea HERE.

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